India trip and Navdanya

Navdanya logo made from seeds

We just got back from a two week trip to India, mainly looking at the work of Vandana Shiva’s organisation Navdanya

The last 20-30 years have been very difficult for farming in general, but especially so for farmers in less economically developed parts of the world where failures can be a matter of life and death.
In India a large proportion of a huge population are farmers. There have been catastrophic consequences for both these farmers and the environment due to the adoption of modern Western farming practices. Practices such as extensive irrigation, use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides and the introduction of modern hybrid seeds and most recently transgenic varieties have all played a part.

Traditional Indian farming systems had proved sustainable over long periods of time and relied on little in the way of external inputs to the farm. While often described as less productive than modern western farming systems, when total farm output is taken into account rather than just yields of one crop, the level of productivity of traditional systems can be similar or greater. Modern practices brought special problems for small farmers in India. Firstly, new hybrid seeds, and the other inputs that they rely on such as chemical fertilisers and pesticides, all require purchasing. Where such purchases are relatively cheap for western farmers, in India where income levels among farmers can be extremely low, these costs represent a significant investment, and often require money to be borrowed. The seeds and methods sold by the international agri-businesses and their Indian subsidies have often not lived up to their marketing promises, leading sometimes to crop failures rather than production increases. This type of loss in conjunction with indebtedness for the original inputs, leaves farmers in a desperate position, and has encouraged over 160,000 farmers to commit suicide in the last 20 years.

Vandana Shiva speaking to us in Delhi

Vandana Shiva talking to us in Delhi

Since 1987 Vandana Shiva and Navdanya have been working to counter this destructive force by encouraging sustainable farming methods based on traditional knowledge and diversity. They have been especially concerned with the erosion of crop diversity within farming which has always underpinned security of production. The more species of plants relied on and the more genetic diversity within the varieties used, the less likely it is that farmers, regions and countries will suffer catastrophe. Global agriculture has become less and less diverse in the last 50 years, with very few crops supplying a large proportion of the world’s calories. Navdanya has worked in India to establish community seed banks where locally adapted varieties of numerous food and forage crops are stored, shared and kept alive.

Crops at Bija Vidyapeeth

Mixed crops growing at Bija Vidyapeeth

We visited Navdanya’s centre, Bija Vidyapeeth near Dehra Dun in Uttarakhand (200km North of Delhi) where they have a farm, their first seed-bank and a teaching facility for farmers, students and international visitors. They teach farmers how to farm organically, using natural pesticides, crop mixtures and rotations, and fertilisation with manure and compost. They also give ideas on including high-value crops such as spices to boost farm incomes and further diversify crops for security.

Seed bank at Bija Vidyapeeth

The seed bank at Bija Vidyapeeth

They have now created a large network of farmers across the country with around 200,000 members. They have raised awareness of farmer’s problems through demonstrations and marches and lobbied the government. This seems to be finally paying off, with for instance the recent promise by the Indian government to aid indebted farmers to prevent suicides. Vandana Shiva has also now been invited to join some government panels on agriculture.

Navdanya sugar cane processing facility

Sugar cane processing at Baraut

More recently Navdanya have developed retail operations to help farmers connect them more directly with consumers. They have shops in Delhi, Mumbai and Dehra Dun, and food processing facilities to process and package the products. We visited their small sugar cane processing plant in Baraut where sugar cane is pressed and reduced to jaggery which is further refined to raw sugar.

Women of Navdanya farming community in Guptkashi

Women of the farming community in Guptkashi

We also visited a community of farmers who have been aided by Navdanya in Guptkashi at the edge of the high Himalayas North East of Dehra Dun. There, in stunningly beautiful mountain valleys they farm small plots terraced into the hillsides, working with Navdanya’s multi-cropping practices rather than the wheat mono-culture that dominates most of the other small fields in the area.

More photos of the trip are here


2 Responses

  1. Beautiful slideshow! Thank you.

  2. Hi dear
    I want to know where and when did you take this picture womans are forming community in Guptakashi

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